“How did you get this job?”
“You’re just a client-side person, then?”
“You answer phones on the help-desk, right?”
“You have to learn this whole system from scratch?”
“What did you say your major was again?”
All of those questions have been posed to me by men throughout my Information Technology (IT) career. For the sake of efficiency, let’s just say they all were asked by “Josh,” a composite 20-something co-worker.
Josh asked the first 4 (and similar) questions in the beginning weeks of my employment. Some of his ridiculous attitude was rooted in sexism. I’ll write about that another day. Today let’s examine what else “diversity” can mean in the IT workplace.
Get over it
The 5th question about my college major came months later. The surprise over my lack of Computer Science (CS) degree would always surface after I’d mastered and surpassed a tech skill. It was as if there was law against Psych majors grokking the command line.
To IT’s white male majority, “diversity,” usually means looking beyond race, creed, and perhaps gender. But there exists a taboo in geek culture too uncomfortable to approach. Let’s comment it out:
//not everyone needs a CS degree to work in IT
//your job isn’t that hard
I get it. For Josh and fellow server room denizens, my psych-major presence presented them with a few harsh “realities.” According to Josh:
- He paid and worked his ass off for a CS degree, and he could’ve “cruised” through a psych major.
- She (Christine) doesn’t code as much as he does but she gets paid the same.
- He will have to teach her everything!
Aside from the dis on Psych, this is where Josh’s logic breaks. Not only could his sys admin job be done by a less-than-l33t person, it could be mastered by one in a matter of months. This rocked Josh’s world so soundly that Josh had to start questioning his career expectations and path. The geek heaven Josh thought he was entering after college wasn’t the elite team of crack coders he expected. He wasn’t ruling a server room and running the whole business. Instead, he was on the same corporate ladder as everyone else (and at the bottom of it). Worse than this, he had to admit he lacked the business and communication skills needed to climb that ladder. All the coding languages, certifications, and CS skills Josh acquired weren’t going to be enough to float him to the top.
Cool Cat vs. Grumpy Cat
Some Joshes took the hit of my existence in stride. Instead of brushing me off, they gave me keys to the kingdom one by one. When I didn’t break the Internet, they gave me more. Eventually I held all of the same access and I used it well. In fact, they’d send me off to do things like server maintenance and infrastructure duplications (usually for South America because I spoke Spanish) while they worked on some code. Other Joshes hemmed and hawed. They usually had poor coding skills that didn’t earn extra time from our managers. They would grow grumpier and grumpier while I steadily collected more skills and certs.
Somewhere along the way, these grumpy tech guys picked up an “I’m Special and You’re Not” brain tattoo. They held themselves back because they couldn’t accept that their job – or the whole world of enterprise IT – wasn’t reserved for the highly elite. Their job, once learned, was pretty repetitive and unchallenging. But the hardest part by far was accepting that they themselves weren’t highly elite, and that drove their prejudice and exclusionary behavior to dangerous levels.
The next time you send some techies off for a sensitivity seminar, make sure the course covers not only diversity in culture but also diversity in education and experience. As more systems are automated and more IT businesses sprout up, the non-CS worker will become the norm. Welcome them, and it’s ice cream for everybody.